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'Wonder Showzen' Creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee Talk 'The Heart, She Holler' and Making TV's Strangest Shows

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire September 9, 2013 at 1:43PM

Under their production company PFFR, Vernon Chatman and John Lee have made some of the most brilliantly and aggressively weird programming to ever air on television.
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Heart She Holler 2

You've worked with him before and he knows and trusts the way you work, but I have trouble even describing "The Heart, She Holler" -- how do you go about pitching it and then marketing it to someone?

VC: No, you don't market it. [laughs]

JL: Yeah, luckily our job isn't pitching or marketing. We did "Wonder Showzen" and we had a wrap party, and Nick Weidenfeld, the executive who used to work at Adult Swim, came and was like, "You should be working for us. Why is this on MTV2?" We looked around, and no one from MTV was at the party.

VC: We were like, "Wow, he seemed like a nice guy."

JL: Lazzo loved it so much he ran promos for "Wonder Showzen" on Adult Swim. That was his way of reaching out to us, on air, telling his audience to change the channel to watch our show. So I think there's just an inherent trust and respect that we have. He likes odd things and I think he likes our odd things... which sounds very creepy.

VC: And the bizarre thing is that we are professional, we're on time, we're on budget, we don't cause any trouble. And even though we're a pain in your ass right now, we're not a pain in his ass.

Heart She Holler 6

JL: Our odd things aren't a pain in his ass, is what you're saying.

VC: We bugger everyone else except for the wallet.

You guys have done music, you've done gallery work. What is it about TV as a medium that keeps you coming back?

VC: It pays the bills.

JL: Money, money, money, money. Hmm, let me think... money, money, money, money. [laughs]

VC: We don't have the skills -- or the lack of skills -- in the art world, to make it there. We thought it was just fun. Basically, our art show was just these odd jokes that couldn't make TV shows, so we were like, "That's a great place to do that." And in music, it was a really enjoyable exercise to meet every week to record a song.

JL: But the thing about television, in this show and every show we've done, is that any idea that we could have, in music or in art or whatever, we can figure out a way to put the spirit of that idea into television. Because we have full control, we can work in whatever shape we want it to take. It's actually not true for the art world -- it's a very immature world and they're very shallow and class-based, it's this whole thing with rich people. You can only suck up to a very finite number of people. A couple of slurps, and you're done. And music is just a younger game. You have to go on tour and live in a van where you don't wash. If you're above 30 you can't. If you're over 30 and you're trying to still be in a rock band, you're just pathetic.

VC: On TV, we get to express ourselves and wash. [laughs]

JL: And it's the best. Really, TV and movies are the best of all the worlds, you get all of that in one. 

Heart She Holler 7

What do you think of the label "anti-humor"? I've seen it applied to Tim & Eric and to "Wonder Showzen," with things like the "Patience" episode and the "Compelling Television" episode... which I confess I couldn't finish because it made me too uncomfortable...

VC: You couldn't finish it? That's the most beautiful one.

I know, but it was hurting me. 

VC: You have to get past it. Your discomfort is with humanity, not with us. Just calmly sit there and watch someone writhe.

JL: And it's not the show you have to get past, it's yourself.

I accept that.

VC: "Anti-comedy" is fine, it's just a really old-fashioned term. 

JL: Yeah, and I think "anti-comedy" has become defined in different ways. For "Wonder Showzen," I don't tend to think it's anti-comedy except that it is anti-capitalism and anti-consumerism and anti-television, which is a political activism-type of "anti." But anti-comedy in the stand-up way of dryness and telling jokes -- we embrace jokes all the time.

VC: Anti-comedy is usually people who are marking comedy about comedy. And that's fine, but I think people get sucked into a hole where they're uptight about comedy or too precious about comedy -- even people who are making comedy about comedy, and that's truly just staring up your ass. So yes, of course we do that, but that's just one of the ways we disappear up our own asses. We have a million paths and routes up the ol' wazoo. "Patience" does have an aggressive thing about it.

JL: We apologize for it in the episode and then give you tons of jokes afterward.

VC: We give you more jokes in three or four minutes than most shows give you in their seasons.

Heart She Holler 8

What can we look forward to in the new season, especially now that you have more episodes with which to stretch out?

VC: It has deeper, more three-dimensional shades of disgusting. You see inside, outside, from within, from without, all the angles of how they're revolting, disgusting people who, for some reason, we like. 

JL: And this season has two precedent-setting sexual acts. I think if you watch this season closely enough, mankind will evolve to its next natural state.

VC: Which is revulsion for this show.

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, Adult Swim, PFFR, Vernon Chatman, John Lee, The Heart, She Holler, Wonder Showzen






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